GOP lawmaker works to save A-10 in defense bill

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Rep. Martha McSally (R-Ariz.) says lawmakers are working on a measure in the annual defense policy bill to keep the A-10 attack jet flying.

“It’s best to be in the chairman’s mark because then it’s paid for. That’s what we’re working on,” the retired Air Force colonel and former A-10 fighter pilot said Thursday during an interview with The Hill.

McSally, a member of the House Armed Services Committee, said she would make her case for saving the fleet to Chairman Mac Thornberry (R-Texas) in a letter.

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“I feel like I have made a very strong case and I believe that the leadership understands the importance of the A-10, so now we’re doing the sausage-making to make sure that happens,” McSally said.

The National Defense Authorization Act is a blueprint for all Defense Department spending, as well as security efforts at the Energy Department.

This year’s markup will be the first ever for Thornberry, who will likely release his topline figures on Monday. 

The Air Force has attempted to retire its A-10 fleet in recent years to save roughly $4 billion. But the effort has been fiercely opposed by many GOP lawmakers who say the Air Force has no suitable replacement.

McSally said she is working with GOP leadership and her colleagues to find the roughly $500 million it would take to keep the A-10, commonly known as the Warthog, airborne, because “you’ve got to make the numbers add up and figure out the off sets and those types of things.”

“It’s going to be, probably, a funky markup” when the full committee takes up the policy roadmap on April 29, she cautioned.

Last month, the full House approved a $3.8 trillion budget that included $523 billion in base defense spending and $96 billion for Overseas Contingency Operations (OCO), the Pentagon's war fund.

But Armed Services members intend to funnel a good portion of the OCO dollars into the baseline budget to make up for shortfalls imposed by sequestration caps.

“You’ve got baseline, you’ve got OCO and OCO may be in two categories. It may be in normal OCO and then OCO that’s really stuff to augment the baseline,” explained McSally.

“Where the A-10 fits in that, whether it’s in OCO category number one or OCO category number two or baseline, we’re working that out right now.”

That said, she is leaning against funding the Warthog through the war fund because it could “open the floodgates” to paying for other endangered programs.

McSally also doesn’t want to save the aircraft via an amendment because “then you need to figure out the offset and you need to start pulling things from other programs.”

Still, she has not received any commitments from Thornberry that her proposed patch will be included in his draft.

“Assurances is a strong word,” McSally said.